Checks, Dots, Stripes & Balances

Solid shirt, solid tie. No brainer, but not today. Classic white shirt with a regimental stripe or medallion print tie in a contrast colour? Enduring and always appropriate in suiting and sport coats, it’s true, but you can do so much better.

If you want to add some excitement to your suit or sport coat—whether it’s plain or patterned—you gotta wrap your head around mixing prints on your shirt and tie. The rich colours and prints in men’s contemporary shirting—dots, checks, micro-geometrics, tone-on-tone weaves, plus floral and faunal patterns, invite exciting combinations that will add a contemporary, textured feel to your finished look.

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Anxious about how to make these uncoordinated coordinates work? Don’t be. The key is balance. We’ve got 5 tips to help you put together mixed patterns that will complement, not clash:

#1 Start a fashion dialogue. Your shirt and tie need to share common ground, and colour is an easy starting point. Look at the pattern on your shirt and be sure your tie picks up a key colour—even as an accent—so the two items make a successful marriage.


#2 Weigh your options. Mix the weights of the patterns so your shirt and tie aren’t wrestling for attention. It’s easier to find a pleasing match if you mix smaller patterns with larger ones to create a clear hierarchy of texture. Otherwise, the two articles of clothing can compete.

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#3 Mix don’t match. Your goal is to create a shirt-and-tie combo that is stronger together than each item is alone. Early on, don’t try to pair same-style prints, such as dots on dots or checks on checks. It’s possible to make same patterns work well together, like a striped shirt and striped tie, but you’ll have more success initially if you mix different patterns. Geometric- or medallion-print ties work nicely with checked shirts. A striped tie makes a strong statement with a micro-pattern shirt. A floral, paisley or jacquard print tie pairs nicely with a coordinating striped shirt.


#4 Make a dynamic match. Mixing patterns is easier when you scale the prints. You can achieve that in any of several ways. Start with a small or subtle pattern on your shirt and add a bolder one with your tie. Punctuate the combination by choosing a tie that is darker than the shirt to anchor the finished look. Always keep textures in mind. If you are wearing a tweed jacket with a twill shirt, for example, a wool or knit tie, instead of silk, might pull the look together more naturally.


#5 Don’t force it. You may love a tie and a shirt as separates, but sometimes they just don’t fit. Mixed-pattern combinations succeed because they are easy on the eyes. Think about balance. Experiment liberally with your combinations and follow your visual instincts instead of trying to force a pairing.


Coming up in Part 2: Now that you’re comfortable with the basics of mixed patterns, we’ll show you how to work the look with check, plaid and textured fabrics on your suit and sport coats.